MIAMI (AP) -In the final moments before this season's home opener, the Florida Marlins will revisit some accomplishments from the past decade.
New manager Fredi Gonzalez - a Miami native - will be nostalgic for different reasons.
The Marlins have put together an elaborate pregame ceremony for Friday's first home game of the year, against Philadelphia. Infielders Hanley Ramirez, Dan Uggla and Miguel Cabrera will be honored for awards they won last season, and Alex Fernandez will throw out the ceremonial first pitch to Charles Johnson - two former Marlins back to help celebrate the 10th anniversary of the team's 1997 World Series victory.
Gonzalez's mind will probably be drifting back even farther. The Cuban-born, Miami-raised Gonzalez was the first coach ever hired by the organization 15 years ago, one season before it opened play in the major leagues. Now 43, Gonzalez left his job as Atlanta's third-base coach to take over the Marlins after Florida fired Joe Girardi - last year's NL Manager of the Year.
``On opening day, if you don't get chills whether it's on the road or home, you're in the wrong sport,'' Gonzalez said. ``That's what it's all about. The flyovers, all kinds of special things going. It's just a fun day.''
And it's been a fun start for Gonzalez, whose Marlins took two of three games in Washington to open the season. Widely picked to lose more than 100 games last season, Florida surprised most observers by staying in the NL wild-card race into late September, and the Marlins have virtually their entire roster back.
Now, even with another rookie manager, some are tabbing the Marlins a playoff contender.
``There's a lot of energy here and terrific camaraderie,'' owner Jeffrey Loria said. ``I'm really happy. I'm very excited about what I've seen going forward.''
Gonzalez's family settled in Miami after leaving Cuba in 1967. He was a star player at Miami Southridge High, where he met his eventual wife. Even his first managerial job came in Miami 17 years ago, when he led the Florida State League's Miami Miracle.
He'll have plenty of family and friends with him Friday.
``My family has done a pretty good job keeping me insulated a little bit,'' Gonzalez said. ``They get the phone calls. 'Can you have your brother get me a Dontrelle Willis autograph?' Nope. They're doing a good job. It's going to be tough because I've known a lot of people who've lived there, shoot, my whole life.
``My family has gotten extended by about 15,000 people,'' he quickly added. ``And I hope they all come out to the stadium.''
So do the Marlins.
Getting big crowds for opening day never has been a problem. It's the other 80 games that are somewhat troublesome: Florida averaged a major league-low 14,384 at home last season.
But the combination of a competitive club with a charismatic native son as manager could entice more South Floridians to show up at the ballpark.
``This is a team a lot of people are just going to fall in love with,'' Loria said. ``They just need some dates.''
Gonzalez has a first date Friday night, one he'll never forget.
``It's a special thing,'' Gonzalez said. ``I'm at home.''

Top MLB Public Bets

MLB Top Stories

Thumbnail Opening 2018 World Series Odds The 2018 World Series opening odds have been released. Who is favored, who is the biggest challenger, and who is also in the mix?
Thumbnail Astros vs. Dodgers Pick Are the Houston Astros going to clinch their first-ever World Series title Wednesday night in Game 7 with an upset win at the Los Angeles Dodgers? Game time is...
Thumbnail Astros vs. Dodgers Pick Can the Houston Astros clinch their first-ever World Series title Tuesday night in Game 6 at the Los Angeles...
Thumbnail Dodgers vs. Astros Pick Are the Los Angeles Dodgers going to ride Clayton Kershaw to a victory over the host Houston Astros in a pivotal Game 5 of the World Series Sunday night? First pitch is at...
Thumbnail Dodgers vs. Astros Pick Are the Houston Astros going to win a third straight game over the visiting Los Angeles Dodgers Saturday night in Game 4 of the World Series? First pitch is at...

MLB Team Pages